Arcam AVR600 owners thread.
I have been asked to start an owners thread with the review I wrote a couple of weeks back for another forum, so here goes........
I have now had an AVR600 for a few days. Normally this wouldn't be long enough for me to be able to fully opine on a piece, but the 600 was so easy to use that I got the maximum benefit from my time. Being familiar with Arcam was a great help here. Everything in this review is my own opinion and direct experience, some others may have a different experience, as their requirements may differ greatly.
Before anyone gets on my case here, issues with the unit will be dealt with in the second part.
The following headings are in no particular order.
Overall sound quality.
Quite simply, this unit is sonically stunning. It is a major leap forward for Arcam in many ways, I'll touch on them as I progress. The imaging is impeccable, and the unit is easily capable of gossamer light delicacy or some serious sonic violence, depending on what the source demands. I would say it has a surgical clarity that I've never heard in a receiver before. The best sounding receiver prior to this was the 350, but the 600 is well ahead of that. £3k may be expensive for a receiver, but for an audiophile unit that kind of money is small potatoes indeed. This unit, when coupled with good speakers and in a room that has been properly treated and corrected, is capable of serious audiophile quality reproduction. More on the test systems later, but they form 2 pairs of systems..... a Linn Akurate and Dynaudio Contour, both using Gotham subs, and the colossal Dynaudio M4 and Genelec 1036a, both using HTs6 subs.
Ease of use.
Nothing much new to say here. Its well laid out and organized. The menus are very easy to follow and logical to use. Its connectivity is amazing and very flexible indeed. The sources that are audio only, like TAPE, can have a video feed assigned to it. As an example, it takes seconds to have an HDTV video feed coupled with an internet radio sound source.
Things like disabling HDMI audio on specific inputs works fine too, so satellite users will be happy there. The Networking is set up in an instant and the internet radio is very easy to use and personalize. All the VP settings are "per source" as are things like room EQ and processing modes. 7.1 users who need PLIIx can set the unit such that it will always engage if there is a 5.1 signal, no need to select it. Spend some time with this unit to set your options as you wish and you will find that the unit simply begins to disappear, you don't have to work at it. All adjustments are shown as on-screen pop ups, this can be disabled if you wish.
I'm not a fan of automated set-up and room correction. I am a correction fan, but prefer the use of systems like the Dolby Lake as they are vastly more flexible and provide markedly superior results. I was, however pleasantly surprised. The system fires a broadband noise burst from each speaker, it does 2 rounds then does its calculations. I found, in the 3 rooms I tried, it got the speaker distances spot on. They were within an inch of the actual measured distances. The crossover frequencies listed for each speaker looked reasonable too (there is one master crossover). The speaker levels were also close to ideal. when testing is done you can see all the results, you then select "accept" to store those values. You can adjust them manually later anyway, if need be.
The other part is the Room EQ. Even when you select "accept" as above, the room EQ is not applied by default. This is a good option, as it means you can still use the other measurements. The room EQ can then be selected, or not, for each individual source. The analysis looks at the broadband noise through the calibrated microphone and tries to even out any room resonances you may have.
The first room I tried was well treated, and had good geometry. Engaging the room EQ made a small but noticeable difference, but not near as good as the system already there, that was as much as I expected anyway. I certainly didn't do any damage. The second room was smaller and is awaiting treatment, the improvement was very noticeable indeed. Switching the EQ repeatedly in and out revealed a number of changes. Fidelity was improved, separation and fine detail was better and vocal ineligibility was improved. Delicate ambient sounds like rain or crickets were far better. Obviously the difference is source dependent, if the source doesn't impinge too much on the problem areas, the difference will be less apparent.
I would urge anyone to take the 5 minutes to run an analysis and see how the room correction works for you. If you don't have an SPL meter and tape measure, you will at least have a decent start point for distance,level and crossover.
The software is by Analog Devices, the guys who provide the SHARC DSP chips. They are very well known in audio circles.
More than anything, I simply wanted to see a transparent pass through, ie when no VP functions are selected. The seems to be the case here.
There is actually a fair bit going on under the hood here that may not be immediately apparent. I'm happy to report that I didn't encounter any nasty surprises. I use 1080 sources almost exclusively, but had a look at some other resolutions to test the scaling clarity. No problems at all. On close inspection, it scales SD-DVD better than the 360, PS3 and a satellite box so it will have it uses. The contrast, brightness and color all work as expected. Noise reduction is more interesting, and yielded some minor improvements with noisy SD material. The normal types are represented here. There is an Edge Enhancement feature too. This has no place with good source material, but did yield a reasonable result with some soft sources, picking out some extra detail. With good stuff, it just looks crazy. People end up with faces that look like they have some serious skin disorder. Every pore looks like a mine shaft.
I have no use for the VP and the fact that its pass through is transparent was all I wanted. Others may differ and benefit from making some "per source" adjustments to the big 3...Brightness, Contrast and Color.
I have no issues whatsoever with the neutral passage of 1080p24. Just make sure you select Auto in the frame rate pull down.
Thats the first part done. I'll try to do the other half tomorrow. I will look at surround performance, legacy AV9 head to head, issues and resolutions, Dolby Volume, network use, etc.
AVR600 Initial impressions, Part II
Before I get into part 2, let me address something I should have earlier. Scaling.
Scaling in the AVR 600 is actually very good. Using the test patterns in DVE, it provided better results than my Toshiba XE1. It also seemed to be on a par with my Oppo 983, which is regarded as the benchmark of players. I'd say, for a receiver, this is a home run. Couple that with the ease of use and Arcam hit it out of the park.
Very simple indeed. Connect up an ethernet cable and that's it. I didn't even have to power cycle. The 600 immediately found my 2 PCs and the NAS drive.I also connected a Linn server and after a power cycle it was there and its music available. Using a switching unit I allowed the 600 to tap into my "whole house" distribution system. It found the Kaleidescape servers and was unable to access them, this is exactly as it should be.
Internet radio was already there and very easy to use. There is a huge selection of stations available. I quick visit to a PC with an ID number, direct from the menu, gives you access to the Arcam radio page. This allows you to set up your favorites, name your own genre folders etc. You can also import your own URLs. On the subject of subscription radio, not every format is supported, but I will be onto Arcam regarding that. With the networking I wss initially thinking "this is way too easy". All in all a superb network implementation, and pretty idiot proof.
For what little I will write, I spent hours familiarising myself with this and the effect it has on sources. Initially I thought it was horrific, this was primarily due to a factory default setting being set to "insane".
Dolby Volume sets out to achieve 2 things.
Firstly, to balance volume between various program material and different sources. Secondly, to retain the volume balance across the soundsatge when volume is decreased. After spending time with this, I was able to obtain good results. In the main, it achieves what it sets out to. I still feel its not a solution for critical listening, and wouldn't use it on a film I was really interested in.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Who will be gnashing the teeth and shedding the tears? Firstly I just want to make it very clear that I am in no way interested in any arguments that may arise from my observations. My description of the tests may lead the reader to think that theses tests were carried out in a very short space of time. It actually took 2 people large parts of 3 days and is the main reason for the delay in this part of the test. I cant go into too much detail as the report would run into pages and pages.
The test systems were basically 2 pairs of setups. The first comprised stereo pairs of Dynaudio M4+ and Genelec 1036A monitors. These are very large, very powerful and very accurate quad amped (in the case of the Dynaudio) monitors. The Genelecs are Active tri-amped with each amp calibrated to its driver. 2 Genelec HTS6 subs took care of the bass duties. These 2 systems are dynamic and analytical way beyond that of the normal domestic speaker. The tests were run on the Dynaudios then the Genelecs.
The other pair of systems was a Dynaudio Contour 7.1 arrangement and a Linn Akurate 7.1 system. These are a more reasonable system for a smaller room and would give a good indication of what would be possible in that sort of environment.
I went to the monitors first with a number of sources. I used a Sonos, Apple TV with lossless content, in addition to a CD and SACD transport. Both of the latter were of audiophile quality.On each test we used a matrix switcher so that we could switch instantly from an AV9 to the AVR600. Time prevented us from testing with the Halcro I had hoped to. Next weekend I will run brief tests against the Pioneer Susano LX90. The tests were run in pairs ie Test 1, source 1 and source 2. I sat in the money seat and couldn't see what was going on, The pairs were random and were sometimes the same source. Other than internet radio, the same segments were repeated. this test was carried out in direct mode.
I should say, at this point, I am an owner of 2 AV9s and find it to be a great processor.
First we ran the Sonos with some good quality internet radio (256k and 192k). The tests were done fairly quickly and offered a sequential alteration between sources. I marked down the source that I preferred and why, over a number of runs.This type of test was repeated for Apple, CD and SACD. I took a number of breaks to avoid the ear fatigue that blights critical listening tests.The findings are a result of literally close on 200 runs. I will round the results to the nearest 5% in each case.
In 20% of cases I couldn't tell a difference. Many of those were actually the same source repeated, so I wasn't far off. In the 70% of cases where I could hear a difference, the processor I selected as superior was the AVR600. The sound was simply more detailed with a good bit more separation in the soundstage. Snare cracks and fret noise were better defined, brass had more of its metallic edge. Dance music was incredibly detailed too. It was noticed that the higher quality the source, the easier it was to identify the units more accurately.
A similar regime was used to test surround processing. This time it was the AVR600 as a receiver with the AV9 partnered with a P7. For HD codecs the the AV9 obviously relied on its analog inputs. Sources were the Denon 3800BD for Blu Ray and the Toshiba XE1 for HD-DVD. I was able to hear a difference in 75% of cases. Of those cases 75% were the AVR600. Thats a ratio of 3:1. The sound was more detailed, with effects being localized better when appropriate.Panning was smoother, with the transition to rears being seamless. There was also just that overall sound quality that transfers over from the 2 channel tests.
I have also been made aware that those responsible for voicing the AVR600 actually find it better than the AV9.
I will add this caveat to all the above....Bear in mind the speaker systems that were in use during testing, there is a great range of speaker sonic performance capabilities.
Issues and resolutions.
There are a number of issues with the 600 of differing levels of concern. The 600 is possibly more DSP intense than previous receivers. That also means that some issues can easily be fixed with a firmware update. The list below is not meant to be exhaustive or authoritative.
1. PLIIx would not engage properly........................................Fixed
2. Intermittent 5.1 streams being played as 2.0 with no center....Fixed
3. Gain jump on deselection of room EQ...................Confirmed Fixable
4. Clicks and pops..........................Fault confirmed and given priority
5. Time to sync audio..........................................Being looked into
I hope this helps any reader further understand the AVR600.
PS a new FW u/d is due thad addresses 2 of the remaining issues above.
"Wow, do you think you are Adonis"...... "Baby, I'm not A-donis, I'm THE-donis"